The Babadook Meets Poltergeist

An autistic child’s smart phone puts a family in jeopardy

Film by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Come Play
Opens Oct. 30

3 out of 5

Sometimes, all it takes to know how a horror flick is going to play out is a quick look at the production company and the rating. Come Play is a PG-13 scary movie from Amblin, so you know it’s angling for a Poltergeist vibe.

Surprisingly, it’s not far from the mark. Low key and rather broad, Come Play is well executed and gets the doses of humour and dread right.

As with most good Spielberg movies (his name isn’t in the credits for Come Play, but his fingerprints are all over it), a broken family is at the centre. The pressures of raising an autistic child have pushed a working-class couple to the brink. Just as Dad prepares to move out, Oliver (Azhy Robertson, Marriage Story), the kid in question, establishes contact with a mysterious entity through his smart phone.

The spirit/ghost/demon materializes as an electronic storybook. It calls itself Larry, and claims to be lonely. Oliver knows the feeling, but is wary of the ghoulish figure on the book. Yet because the mobile is his only form of communication (Oliver doesn’t talk), he’s stuck with it.

Yes, Come Play is The Babadook-lite. But that’s hardly a bad thing. If the well-dressed spectre in The Babadook was summoned by grief, Larry comes from a place of loneliness. You don’t need a degree in semiotics to figure out the movie is about the threat posed to isolated children by internet predators. It also delivers a rare accurate portrait of autism. Never mind what The Good Doctor, The Accountant and Rain Man say, autism is not a superpower.

Some well-placed scares compensate for the near complete absence of gore. Having said that, there is a scene toward the end that will likely to give you nightmares. Come Play won’t change your life, but given the state of affairs in theatres these days, and the horror genre in general (lots of movies, all mediocre), it justifies the effort of leaving the house.